One must make choices, and my criteria were twofold: a concept had to stand out as (1) silly and (2) insidious in its ability to influence people (the “coattail effect,” as we will discuss). There are many concepts that didn’t make the cut because either they seemed too nonsensical, too extreme or too pedantic to gain any real traction in the discourse. But, then again, I’ve been repeatedly surprised in recent times by how inane ideas have been mainstreamed so maybe next year I’ll need to update the list. Let’s hope not.
Who doesn’t support abolition, as in the abolishment of slavery? In today’s woke context, however, abolition suggests we abolish police and prisons. To be sure, there is much that needs fixing in policing and prisons. Abolition, like so much in the woke lexicon, latches on to a concept deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness, in this case ending slavery. I call this the coattail effect, whereby a woke ideavirus rides on the coattails of a more legitimate social concept, gaining greater acceptance along the way. It seduces well-meaning people who (rightfully, in my view) want to see changes to drug policy or cash bail or aggressive policing tactics, etc. into embracing something completely absurd—that we should do away with police and prisons. The more moderate woke activists know that abolition is a very bad idea but pretend that it’s reasonable so as not to incur the wrath of radical activists. And like so much of wokery, it becomes established thinking in progressive circles because everyone who knows better is too afraid to challenge it (we need a good name for this fear-acquiescence-establishment dynamic). The reaction to abolition probably had a major impact down-ballot on the national elections. Some locales, like Minneapolis, even went through with abolishing the police!
LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant, a professor of Africana studies at Williams College, says that the term “refers to taking someone else’s culture—intellectual property, artifacts, style, art form, etc.—without permission.” One wonders whom in a particular culture has the standing to “give permission” to an outsider? To whom should I pay proceeds for wearing a Sari? No one in Maylasia asked me for permission to eat a McDonald’s hamburger. Anyway, this concept demonizes the utterly normal, healthy, necessary and inevitable cultural mingling and melding that happens in every time and place in human history where two or more cultures come in contact with one another. Cultural sharing is actually good, not bad, for pluralistic societies. I cannot believe anyone takes cultural appropriation seriously. Yet they do! Perhaps that is because on an intuitive level it feels disrespectful or exploitative for a white person to dress up as a minority (e.g., Blackface). And, of course, some measure of common sense and decency is in order here. Mimicking another culture can be demeaning, especially if the intent was to demean. But, here again, we see the coattails effect in action: a crazy ideology latches on to an intuition that we should be careful in caricaturing other cultures and gains a measure of social acceptance.
This concept suggests that Brown people have often refused to distance themselves from and have sometimes been complicit in white supremacy and “anti-Blackness.” Brown complicity demonizes Asian and Latino groups who have found success in American society. Some academics have gone so far as to say that the reason why some Asians have succeeded is whites needed to show that they weren’t racist so they propped up Asians. Of course, this fails to answer why Asians have outperformed whites, their supposed benefactors. The concept is used to warn away anyone tempted to make cultural arguments for why some cultures are more successful than others. Brown complicity made my top five as it strikes me as especially odious in scapegoating and demeaning Asians and “white adjacent” Latinos.
This concept sounds totally acceptable (like equality, but “better”!), which is why its wokified form is so dangerous. The concept of equity has been around a long time, and I am less concerned with the line of argument supporting affirmative action (i.e., that equality of opportunity is insufficient and that society has an obligation to make up for historic discrimination) than with what’s passing under this term. The woke revamping of the equity concept goes much further, suggesting that any differences in group outcomes are prima facie evidence of discrimination. Under this line of reasoning, for example, the fact that black males commit more crime is proof of a lack of equity in law enforcement. And by the same logic, if it were consistent, the fact that Asian Americans do better than whites should be proof of inequities toward whites (which, of course, is absurd, and, of course, is not how the logic is applied). Equity is also used by woke idealogues to mean that everyone should be given an equal share of the social-economic pie, rather than everyone should be given a fair shake. Taken to its logical conclusion, an equity policy would turn economic and political liberalism on its head.
This concept suggests that scientific research institutions should empower marginalized voices in the scientific process, cite minority research, and provide marginalized groups the “capacity and resources to use and wield all forms of its knowledge to effectively advance their agenda.” Where does one begin? Any politicization of the scientific process and deviation of the meritocratic imperative will only curtail scientific inquiry and discovery. We cannot and should not subject scientific research to diversity requirements. Moreover, we do not do science to “advance an agenda.” We do science to learn the truth. This corrupted approach to science would over time make America and other Western countries uncompetitive on the world stage. Peter Boghossian quipped that our competitors the Chinese certainly won’t be seeking marginalized Uyghur voices in scientific research. That is not to say America shouldn’t be investing in, recruiting and mentoring minority scientists. We can and should.
(Learn more about this idea here)
Until and unless enough thoughtful, liberally-minded people fight back, nutty woke concepts will continue to take root and metastasize.